Last week, in PART 1 of this post, I discussed the value of listening and learning more about your contacts and their needs, and how that opens the door to being able to add value to their lives so as to build the relationship. I also stressed how important it is to push past the surface stuff and get to really know them as a person, not just as a professional. In this week’s post (Part 2), I am going to explain two key counter-intuitive principles that will make it much easier to connect with people, as well as describe some of the unique challenges and benefits that come into play when you are building relationships with your contacts on a personal level.
Two Powerful Shifts In How You Deal With People
There are two common misconceptions and mistakes professionals make in how they interact with others, and they both center around INFORMATION. Specifically, I’m talking about the information we share about ourselves and the information we ask others to share out themselves. Dispensing with these misconceptions and breaking the bad habits associated with them will make you WAY more successful in building relationships with your network (or actually anyone in your life).
When it comes to talking with other professionals, our default setting is to only speak positively about ourselves and our company. Naturally, you want people to feel you are a dependable person, working for an exceptional company, that delivers only the highest levels of service and the best products… blah, blah, blah. You’ve got to stand up there as the shining knight for your industry and don’t let them see any chinks in your armor, right?
Well, although you should deliver good services and products and you should try to be a good representative of your company, etc, you don’t need to come off as PERFECT. In fact, there’s a point where you come off TOO perfect and you stop being believable. I mean let’s be honest… we all have our problems. We all have shit we are dealing with!
When you stand there and act like you’re just kicking ass in ALL directions professionally, then THEY have to act that way too because its intimidating to be around someone who’s soooo perfect. So in the end you get two people essentially lying to each other, or at the very least hiding a bunch of things from one another. How’re ya gonna build a relationship like that, huh?
The point I’m making is that it’s OK to show some vulnerability. It’s alright to discuss some of your struggles, problems, insecurities or aspirations you haven’t been able to achieve yet, etc. to this other person, even if they are a relative stranger. You might think that this leaves you open for being judged, or that they will be less likely to do business with you because of it, but the truth is quite the opposite. They are more likely to feel more connected to you. You will come off as more authentic, down to earth and relateable. And most importantly, they will feel more comfortable bringing their guard down and being more honest with you. Now you’re getting somewhere! The more honestly and openly they can speak with you, the more opportunities you will find for adding value to their lives.
As a side note: Obviously there are limits to this approach. If each night you attend Kleptomaniacs Anonymous meetings and share that fact right before you explain your services as a Financial Adviser, it’s probably not going to go well. Also, if you have a TON of problems going on right now, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) start listing out ALL of them to the person you just met and force them into the role of therapist. Like anything else in life, avoid extremes in both directions and you’ll usually make out OK.
The other mindset that holds professionals back from from building relationships effectively is the concept of “respecting the other person’s privacy”. It’s a very common mistake because most people think that it is bad manners to inquire about personal subjects. You might think the other person would be offended and turned off if you started asking more personal questions. And sure, there are certain subjects that aren’t polite to start talking about in professional settings, but you will find that if you start to venture out of your comfort zone on this, you can ask about almost anything and people will not be offended. There are however, some things to keep in mind to do this properly.
First and foremost, you need to CARE about this other person and their well being. The reason you are asking them about these things is because you want to understand them better and also so you can find ways to be helpful. If you are really approaching someone from this perspective, they can usually sense it. And if you aren’t, they can sense that too.
Secondly, be mindful of the environment. If you’re standing in a circle of 3 or 4 people at a networking event, you’re not going to be able to get as personal as if you are doing a 1-1 meeting over coffee or by phone.
Thirdly, there are some people who have a big button on privacy and DO get offended when you ask personal questions. If you run into one of these people, that’s fine. Take note of that and move on. You might need to add a lot more value with that person in other ways before they will warm up and trust you with the personal stuff. Just don’t make the mistake of then deciding that it’s safer to not inquire about the personal life of your contacts anymore so you don’t upset them. Believe me, from LONG experience doing this, those people who get offended easily by these questions are very much in the minority. By far, most people are not like that. The main reason the average person doesn’t share their personal info is because NOBODY ASKS! Most casual professional communications are like “Hey how are you doing?”. “Oh, I’m fine, how are you?” “Great, thanks.” That’s not communication – that’s social machinery talking to other social machinery. So when someone shows up and really asks REAL questions and wants to know the answers, the person wakes up and says “Hey there’s someone really talking to me!” It’s refreshing and usually quite welcome.
More Opportunities To Add Value
By making the above two shifts in how you network, you will find many more opportunities to add value to the relationship and thereby move through the 3 stages of a networking relationship.
- You might find that this person has a daughter that is trying to get accepted into a local university, and you happen to know the dean of admissions.
- They might share how they are currently going through a tricky child custody situation – something you went though as well – and you know a lawyer who expertly handled that for you.
- You could learn that they have a passion for a certain social cause, and your sister happens to run a charitable foundation for that same cause and is looking for volunteers.
- It might just happen that you have a shared interest in a certain hobby, and you can help them improve their skills, access or knowledge related to that subject.
The point is, there are TONS of opportunities to add value for your contacts through your knowledge, experience, resources or connections. But you will never discover the full range of those opportunities until you start to really dig deeper in your networking relationships.